Local art collector and appraiser Richard Frey shows museum-quality works at Dovetail
I was at the Dovetail Design Gallery the other day with an original drawing by Rembrandt in my hand (yes, “original"), and it occurred to me that this is something that I don’t normally get a chance to do.
While the work might not be available for the holding anymore (that is, unless you buy something), the rarest of local art exhibitions is still on hand at the Dovetail Gallery. Through the end of the year, that sketch of a beggar family by Rembrandt, plus prints, paintings, drawings and sculptures by Matisse, Mirê, Rembrandt, William Blake, Toulouse-Lautrec, Edward Hopper, Picasso and many others are right here in Chico.
Local art appraiser and collector Richard Frey and his wife Marion have decided to part with a fraction of their private collection. The works are for sale and will be on display for the people of Chico through Dec. 31.
A week before the opening, Richard Frey is still casually adding pieces to the stacks of framed prints and paintings leaned against one another and every wall in the handsome space. The installation is still being prepped, but the serious yet soft-spoken Frey can’t help stopping and sharing the story of each piece.
A two-foot-tall terra-cotta sculpture of a nude woman with a very friendly pelican wrapped around her was just set on the front counter.
The terra-cotta coupling is by German immigrant Hans Mangelsdorf, who died in Redding about 20 years ago, Frey explains. Considering that Frey is one of a handful of historians in the country actually certified in the appraising of antiquities, his story carries some weight.
Frey is certified by the International Society of Appraisers (ISA) and is one of the fewer than 125 North American appraisers to attain a CAPP designation (Certified Appraiser of Personal Property) and one of only six to be so certified in paintings specifically.
“I’ve done appraisals into the millions, 10 millions, 100 million—those I don’t get every day by any means,” Frey explains, adding that he once even “had a client send a stretch limo to my door.”
From his office headquarters in Chico, Frey travels extensively, appraising works for auctions, estate taxes, I.R.S. scrutiny, insurance law and marriage dissolutions.
After attending Chico State University, Frey went to England and completed degrees in mining engineering (University of Bedford) and construction management (Landford University). It wasn’t until the late-'70s that Frey started acquiring credentials as an appraiser, completing hundreds of workshops and taking courses at U.C. Berkeley and Indiana University.
His interest in art isn’t just about the numbers, though. Each piece we visit at Dovetail elicits an appreciation for the work as much as an understanding of its background.
“It talks to you,” Frey says in reverence for the simple, broken lines that make up the peasant family in the Rembrandt etching. And at each piece the important constant is that each “tells the story … tells it well.”
“My mother was a bit of an artist. My younger sister became an artist,” Frey says, explaining the roots of his fascination, “I kind of grew up around it, appreciating it…”
“I started with a pretty serious interest in stamp collecting when I was 12 years old. When I turned 16, I opened a stamp and coin shop in downtown Chico—1946.”
Asked why he’s selling off these pieces, Frey explains, “I collect it, live with it and enjoy it every day. … I’m at a point where I’m breaking up some of my collecting, and it seems time, seems appropriate to offer some of it for sale, for other people to enjoy.”
Frey ends this little tour at a small, 1922 Edward Hopper painting.
“It tells the story of two soldiers,” Frey explains, “They’re marching a group of prisoners down the river levee. Black crows in the rainy sky…”
And, for a mere $40,000, that story can be yours.